Saturday, September 27, 2014

This week in birds - #127

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment:

Baltimore Orioles have been passing through the area on fall migration and although I haven't actually seen any in my yard, it gives me an excuse to again run these images of a male (left) and female (right) bird that I took in my backyard in May, 2013 when we had a virtual invasion of the beautiful birds that lasted for several days. It was wonderful! In spring of this year by contrast I only saw one bird in the yard.   

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The Winter Finch Report for 2014-15 is out. This report has relevance primarily for Canada and the northern tier of states, particularly the Northeast, but it does offer some clues as to what we might be able to expect in the way of winter visitors this far south. In general, a poor year for irruptions is predicted because food crops in the north appear to have been sufficient to keep the birds there, but there is a possibility that Purple Finches might wander farther south, as might our little friends the Pine Siskins. It is also possible that we might see more than usual of the Red-breasted Nuthatch.

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On Thursday, President Obama signed a proclamation to expand a protected marine reserve in the Pacific Ocean. It will mean that a total of 370,000 square nautical miles are off limits to commercial fishing and will protect the coral reefs and the unique marine ecosystems that are threatened by that fishing and by the effects of climate change.

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Scientists continue to study the migration of the Monarch butterfly and try to figure out just how they are able to do it. Meanwhile, this week a mysterious cloud appeared on the weather radar screens around St. Louis. It was one giant cloud in an otherwise cloudless sky and meteorologists were at first unable to explain it, but apparently, it was a mass of Monarch butterflies making their way toward the mountains of Mexico for the winter. Interestingly, the cloud itself was rather butterfly-shaped.

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The once-extensive Aral Sea in Central Asia has been shrinking since the 1960s, but this summer, for the first time the eastern lobe of the sea dried up completely.

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Horseshoe crabs are an important link in the food chain for many migrating shorebirds along the East Coast. More specifically, their eggs are a valuable resource for tired and hungry spring migrants making their way up from South America. This week, thousands of the crab hatchlings were released into Delaware Bay to help boost the population there.

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A new lawsuit alleges that the federal government broke the law when it approved construction of a wind power facility too close to nesting areas of Golden Eagles in eastern San Diego County in California.

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One of the treats that we look forward to each winter is visits by the dapper Cedar Waxwings, Their flocks begin small in December and grow sometimes to hundreds of birds by the spring. But there is another slightly larger waxwing, the Bohemian, that visits the more northerly parts of the continent. "Earbirding.com" has an appreciation of the bird.

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A most unusual sight in the deserts of California - mushrooms! They sprouted after recent hard rains there.

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Four Whooping Crane chicks, raised by their parents at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland were released to the wild in Wisconsin this week. They have become part of the Eastern Migratory Flock that flies to wetlands in the Southeast for the winter. This is all part of the continuing effort to increase the number of the big birds in the wild.

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The gluttonous and highly predatory lionfish has been introduced to the Gulf waters around Florida and in the Caribbean. It was an aquarium fish that was released, either accidentally or on purpose, into the wild and has thrived and reproduced there. Now it is wreaking havoc in those waters and authorities are attempting to at least slow its progress with an import ban and the introduction of spearfishing.

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The current conservative government of Australia seems bent on undoing every bit of environmental progress that the country had made during its years of being led by the climate-conscious Labor Party. They are overturning laws and regulations as fast as they can, encouraged by the Rupert Murdoch-dominated press in the country that fulfills the same role of spreading lies, fear, and conspiracy theories as it does in this country.

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Abundant supplies of natural gas may not be the boon to the environment that its supporters claim. Indeed, it is expected that the cumulative effect of its usage will do little to reduce harmful emissions that help cause climate change.

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Many migratory shorebirds that must navigate the East Asian-Australasian Flyway are facing annihilation. The best-known of these is probably the Spoon-billed Sandpiper.

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An effort to reintroduce the Scarlet Macaw into the wilds of Mexico has had some notable success. The population has been increased by 34 percent in one year.

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